Local Lit | December’s top tips for book lovers

December’s Local Lit column presents a smorgasbord of super local suggestions (in-person or virtual). Instead of excursions pinned to specific dates and times, flexibility is key. Here are four Best Ideas for Book Lovers in the coming weeks:

Visit the Central Oakland Public Library or a branch in your community — or explore a new branch in a neighboring city for extra fun. Certainly, there’s the 32nd Annual PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Literary Awards presented virtually by the Oakland Public Library on Dec. 4 that bibliophiles and fans of award shows might embrace. Named for the late poet and professor at The University of California at Berkeley, the PEN Awards recognize outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse literary community. But why limit your enjoyment and appreciation to one day? Instead, establish a tradition, plant early literacy seeds for your kids, explore the multiple benefits of public libraries: free information and lending resources (books, tools, seeds and more) and access to free or low-price ticketed events held in your community throughout the year.

Drop in at an independent bookstore and support local businesses with a purchase. Piedmont and surrounding cities in the East Bay boast a bevy of terrific book shops; each with special attributes. Examples? The vast knowledge of staff at the cozy A Great Good Place for Books; the boisterous energy of Mrs. Dalloway’s new owners Jessica and Eric Green, where unique gifts for gardeners add to the store’s homey charm; the opportunity to revise, rectify and decolonize understanding of American history and discover Black writers and artists who’ve long graced the literary canon and culture at Marcus Books, the oldest independent Black bookstore in the nation; delve into Walden Pond’s rare books collection and appreciate the shop’s ongoing support of local authors with new and used copies of local writers’ books always available. Choose to keep your dollars in local hands and bookstore owners will keep their best offerings — terrific books — in yours!

Peruse local publishers’ new books and backlists directly to discover books you will treasure that are “homegrown.” Top Bay Area-based imprints to investigate include Creston Books, Heyday Books, food activist and author Bryant Terry’s new 4 Color Books, Chronicle Books, San Francisco Center for the Book, McSweeney’s, City Lights Publishers, and the University Presses at Cal and Stanford. Start with an easy Google search: all have websites and options for purchasing directly or though your local bookseller. 

Find books by local authors then read their backlist and join individual newsletters or blogs to keep up with the latest news from your favorite writers. If the pandemic has wreaked havoc, it has also resulted in many writers opening the window to provide direct interaction with readers. Among new books this year by local authors: Helene Wecker’s intriguing historic epic, The Hidden Palace; Stanford University professor Karl Deisseroth’s Projections, a powerful and unexpectedly moving deciphering of human emotion and how mental illnesses shed light on the neurological underpinnings of socialization; San Francisco Poet Laureate Tongo Eisen-Martin’s pint-size-but-masterful City Lights Pocket Poet series book, Blood on the Fog; science writer Mary Roach’s uproariously entertaining and deeply informative Fuzz; Keenan Norris’ The Confession of Copeland Cane, one of the books on this writer’s Best Books 2021 list; a visually stunning, compelling, and endlessly reviewable book by author/chef/activist Bryant Terry, Black Food; Vendela Vida’s magnificent coming-of-age novel We Run the Tides; Dave Eggers’ The Every, a companion book to his earlier novel, The Circle; among many others.

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